And that's not even dealing with the game's assorted bosses. A couple are a little under-inspired, but most are splendid and there's actually what I suspect is a mini-classic in their midst in the form of The Terrible Sun ("I Hate You Sun!" says your lead, and you can only concur), which managed to be a highly traditional boss battle, openly hilarious - before you even get to its ice-cream cones of doom - and really cute conceptually.
While the individual levels also allow a variety of routes, there are also multiple paths through the entire game, depending on who you want to trust in its campy b-movie plot (and it's a suitably vestigial plot). Depending which way you go, you head towards one of four endings, complete with its own end-of-game boss and cut-scene.
While its major mechanical flourish is how it deals with death itself, its secondary one is how it deals with approaching death. In what it calls "Death Brushing", if you're about to actually be hit, the game slows down, giving you a chance to manoeuvre away - a fairly neat simulation of action-hero survivability. As you improve, you end up actively courting the ability in order to deliver precise firepower in a dangerous situation. Equally, it adds a certain level of drama to your conflict with hefty foes. Finding yourself crouching inside the open jaws of a creature, opening up as time slows down is pretty cool. (Or coooooooool, in the parlance of my fifteen-year-old self.)
However, the Death Brushing also hints at the game's main fault. Its level of generosity means that it's simply not very hard, and notably so in a genre famed for its brutality. Rescuing your team-mates is an interesting mechanic (especially so when you've died twice on a level and your remaining character is only able to carry one of the others out - much to the annoyance of whoever you leave behind), but it means that, after a few plays, you have seven lives instead of the initial three. So the longer you play the game, the easier it gets to complete - just because you have more lives to achieve it. The multiple routes are all very well, but when you're any good, you're going to get through them in twenty minutes tops.
And that's if you choose to fight. Bar the bosses, you can dodge your way through the levels with no penalty (or, rather, no reward for doing otherwise, as there's nothing at all like a traditional score table, though the developer is running a high score contest). While there's a harder difficulty level, if you haven't seen all the game has to offer you after four hours I'd be highly surprised.
But while you wish there was a little more thought to extend play beyond all those blasts ("You have completed the game with just this character" awards or similar), it's still a highly likeable game. Yes, some of the enemies don't seem particularly interested in your existence. Yes, some of the characters' weapons are so brutally overpowered to turn bosses into braggart-mush with worrying haste. But the game doesn't really care, and neither do you. It's a run-and-gun that chooses to step back from the difficulty cliff and just show all the gleeful nonsense its managed to think up to anyone who cares to persist.
The model for the downloadable game on Xbox 360 seems to have been a small focus with a large amount of polish - following on from Geometry Wars - but this ignores all that and just spends its effort on frippery and pure joy. It's the true Mr Total Mental, a descendent of the best old two-quid budget games for a price of not much more than that (400 Microsoft Points). Pure B-movie, pure fun. The fifteen-year-old in you will like it a lot.
7 / 10